Thanks to everyone’s support, despite covid, we have been able to make some progress. Keeping the covid protocol in place, eleven students are at the centre. There is no school to go to, but there is an able team of facilitators and care givers, from Abhimanyu, Mithun, Sangeeta and Shankar ji, who have been available full time at the centre, to Subhash and kamayani, who come in for helping at specific hours in learning exercises. In addition there are volunteers who drop in and help, recently we had Tanmay and Sultan Bhai spend time with the children. You can see Sultan Bhai in this action video* with the children and read about ART classes at the jeevanshala, facilitated by Tanmay, here.**
A TYPICAL DAY AT THE JEEVANSHALA
The children, 7 girls and 4 boys in the ages of 10 and 12, are staying full time at the centre. Their day starts with morning exercises and dhyaan, followed by cleaning of their rooms and shram daan (which includes cleaning the centre grounds, watering plants and trees, preparing mud for walls etc.). After a healthy but light breakfast of choora, moorhi, ankurit (sprouted) or cooked chana, the children sit for their first formal lesson for the day. This is the hindi class, facilitated by Abhimanyu. In this class they read a short story and then summarize it on their own words, enhancing their grasp on the language and improving their imagination. Based upon this summary, the discussion opens up on grammar and usage of hindi language. In parallel to this children also have their baths and put out their clothes to dry.
Soon after Subhash ji and Mithun, take on children in two separate batches. Subhash ji focuses on Maths and Science learning, based on syllabus and text books. Mithun is trying to ensure that all children develop basic computer literacy, and get over their fear of this device. Four computers are installed with games for children. Some of the older children are learning to type, also strengthening their grasp of the English alphabet and language.
COMUTER MASTI WITH MITHUN BHAIYA
The afternoon break is more of a break for the adults, the children eat and just sit around the tiny carom board they have or run around with their small football, if its not too hot.
LEARNING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE
Children are learning English as a second language and it is a rigorous two hours, full of physical activity, games and fun, as also doing hand outs and work sheets. So far the children have scripted a play with the characters in a family (mother, grandmother, father, grandfather, brother, sister and others). The script of the play as played by the children was written down by Mithun and can be read here.*** 11 children came to us one month ago of which 7 could read upto three letter words. However, they did not know the meaning of the words. Some of them despite being able to read English, said “Hamen angrezi nahi aati” (We don’t know English). And I remember one of the parents being there when the kids did the play with two introductory lines “I am P. I am the ‘mother’ in this play.” And one of the parents who happened to be there watching said “Ab P bhi angrezi bolne laga”. The sense of pride was evident. There was one more interesting development, while learning the English alphabets phonetically, we realized some or in fact most of the stories were very alienating like the one about “Jack” and “Jelly” in the “refrigerator”. For children from villages in North Bihar, this story made no sense, so we asked the children if they want to make their own videos, they agreed and in the last week we have made videos for alphabets J,K,L,M,N,P,R and S, which can be found here.**** We also watched some videos, two of these were especially beautiful, telling the story of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. You can see these here and here.******
OUTDOORS AT THE JEEVANSHALA
After a hectic day, the children spend their energies on the field, playing games like kho-kho, dodge ball and kabbadi. Sports like kabaddi and kho kho enhance their team work and also create a favorable environment for girls and boys playing together. Sports like these also help girls in getting over their inhibitions and shame around the body, drilled into them from an early age, encouraging them to discover and display their strength.
After this there is a short meeting to discuss the day long activities, any issues or problems. There is also a self study period assimilating the days work and completing tasks they have been given through the day, ably guided by Sangeeta and Mithun.
MARKING SPECIAL DAYS THROUGH THE MONTH
This month also gave us a lot of opportunity to talk about other things, we celebrated Ambedkar Jayanti on 14th April, talking about Dr. Ambedkar’s childhood, when he was like our little children at the centre. His zeal for education and his commitment to the upliftment of the downtrodden and highlighting the problem of caste was talked about.
We also discussed the idea behind the month of Ramzan, and the festivities of Eid that follow. Abu Sufiyan who is fasting, came to the centre to talk to the children and then we all shared iftari together.
This month (1st May) started with the children understanding why May Day is celebrated. We watched a video shot by village children and also sang the famous song – “Workers United Will Never be Defeated”. Video of the village children can be seen here.
We are looking forward to send you more interesting updates in the coming months.
Here is a small write up from tanmay and Mithun, facilitators in the English class
So we started with a bowl of chits with 10 person names, 10 animals, 10 places and 10 things (total 40 chits). In the first round, children had to go around greeting each other. It looked a bit like this:
“Hello, what is your name?”
“My name is stick” or my name is Katihar or My name is book” or my name is kamayani or My name is jackal.
4 corners of the classroom were marked with name, place, animal, thing. And students had to run to the corner that they thought their new name came under. (So dog would go to animal, kamayani would go to person, bombay to place and so on). We repeated this 3 times. Each time, answers were discussed and those who had gotten it wrong could move over to the correct corner.
Next we did an excerCise –where we listed all the pronouns we could remember. Turned out we remembered only the subject pronouns….but many needed reminding of that also.
We went around the room and expressed what pronouns we would like used for ourselves. We talked about the importance of respecting the choice of someone’s pronoun. Sagar chose to be referred to as she..and we practised using she for sagar. We also said that sagar can change pronouns at anytime and there would be no judgement.
We tried using pronouns in a sentence, talking abt our classmates and people we knew.
While it started with us asking: “How is abhimanyu? Is he fine?
It quickly changed to kids teasing each other saying.. you are a dog. You are a goat (referring back to our first game)
Or we are lions. :P.
Tannu and rani said things like.. I am strong. We are happy.
The children also have had a few art classes where they worked on expressing their creativity through colours and lines. At the beginning of each class, students are given drawing prompts such a scenery or animals. Once, they were introduced to shapes (circle, rectangle, square and triangle) and asked to draw as many different everyday objects as possible, using these shapes.
Most recently, the students learnt the art of zentangle.
Zentangles are designs that simple repetative patterns. You can do zentangle designs within a larger outline or combine them together on their own with no defined outline. What is great about zentangle art is that It doesn’t have to be complicated to be beautiful. Some images of the children’s zentangle art are attached.
This is the script of a play the children came up with, when making use of English words, learnt for family relations like mother, father, uncle, aunt, sister, brother and others. Mithun jotted down the script exactly as how the the children did it.
He is 10, he likes observing squirrels, he shouts excitedly “watch them dance”. The child of a landless Dalit labourer, this one has a spark in his eye and you know he will go far. She is almost always quiet. She’s 10 but doesnot recognize English or hindi alphabets, though she has memorized the alphabets orally, a common feat managed by children put in rote learning atmospheres provided by our school system. But, sometimes there is a clear interest in her, like, when she calls out ‘mother’ and says it means “माँ”, a word she has choosen to learn in her English class. She is taller than the rest, her physique in her village invites marriage proposals at 13, but she wants to learn at the centre. She wants to know, what is the English word for “शोषण” (exploitation). He’s almost 12, knows how to milk the cow, helps cook meals and manage house, but his parents want him to learn, the centre will help him learn new things but not forget what his parents know. All these children from poor working families want to learn, they have dreams they want to live and you can help them, pl read on to see how.
In 2018, the MBSNS centre was finally in a state to help the learning of some students. In 2021, despite the covid lockdown, four students completed their Twelfth standard and three passed their Tenth boards. The younger ones were sent home in the lock down, but we tried to support their long distance education through local tuitions in their respective villages. For this academic year (2021-22) the MBSNS jeevanshala (school of life) has decided to work with Twenty children on campus, for which we have done some minor infrastructural overhauls and added to the human resources at the centre.
Seven students have already joined on campus and the process of identifying and selecting the other students is still on. Manjhli and Rani, continue to be on campus, while Bhagyashree, Sudhanshu, Priyanshu, Anant and Sachin have joined on the 1st April, 2021. All the children are enrolled in the local government school in classes Five to Eight. We hope to support their education for a period of atleast two years.
Right now given the Covid situation, government schools have been closed and we are engaging the children full time at the centre. The children wake up, to exercises and dhyan, followed by shramdan, a free flowing reading hour, hindi, maths, english and science lessons, basic computer literacy, board games, evening rounds of kabbadi, kho-kho, dodge ball and cricket, along with neighbourhood children. Most of these children are the first generation of their families getting into formal schooling, coming from families of daily wage labourers, who are landless and depend on migration to earn living wages. Though the parents have provided the children with day to day clothing, a trunk to keep their things, two sets of school uniforms and a school bag, and are going to pitch in with rice and wheat at different harvesting seasons, we know that we need to garner much more resources and for this we turn to you. A tentative budget for the year is below. However, this will not be possible without your support.
No contribution is small, please do send whatever you can and it will go a long way.
Cost per child in a year
Food = Rs 1500 X 12 = 18000
Tution Fees and supplies = Rs. 1000*12 = 12000
Total Cost for 20 children = Rs. 30000 *20 = 6 Lakh rupees
Fixed cost for living sustenance per year
Cook @8000 per month = 96,000
Care Taker @8000 per month = 96,000
Academic Coordinator @8000 per month = 96000
Regular Maintenance = @1000 per month = 12,000
Total fixed costs = 3 Lakh rupees
So to run the centre for 20 children, for one year we need about 9 lakh rupees
For further information please contact Abhimanyu (email@example.com) and kamayani (9771950248) firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
In 2018, we turned to you for support. And thanks to all your support, we were able to see 10 children through their school education, no drop outs. This year post covid-19, we have selected a set of 7 new students and more are to join in. Please do look below for a pictorial introduction to the new group of students and also our appeal.
LEARNING IS FUN AND PLAY – This is the story of a bunch of happy children, unfazed by the harshness of their economic and social realities. Their spirit for learning has not been tamed by rote learning, corporal punishment and other such mores still present in our education system. Even the year they have lost to covid has not affected their spirits. Salaams to their spirits, to their desire to learn!
Anant is 10. He laughs a lot. He’s a happy child. Despite the fact that there has been no school for the last one year, due to Covid, that the Government school in his village has not been child centric, he is very enthusiastic about learning. His parents are landless Dalit daily wage labourers. Jai krishan ji and Sulekha ji put together the little they have to get Anant to the centre, for his further education.
Manjali came to the centre accidentally, in 2019. She was a very timid and silent child, and her sister just got her along on one of her various trips to the centre. Slowly she started opening up and when all the smaller children were asked to leave in March 2020, during the lock down, she spoke, she said she will be back. And a year later, as we recover from covid Manjali is back. She is silent again, but she is opening up fast. Her parents, who are landless Dalit daily wage workers, can ill afford an education for her, but atleast they spare her to be at the centre, when many hold on to their daughters at home, using their free labour.
Priyanshu’s parents are small peasants. They have had some formal education, but more than anything else, they are very aware. Poonam, Priyanshu’s mother, spreads information about health issues in the community, as a Health volunteer, while working her lands, managing the house and bringing up the children. Amar, Priyanshu’s father, is an able farmer, for him education is not about getting a job for Priyanshu, their life as small farmers, with back breaking works, ensures a certain dignity, but he wants his son to learn and be exposed to the world.
Rani has been at the centre the last two years. Her elder brothers have completed their tenth and twelfth, from the centre. She wants to learn, to fly, to get ‘knowledge’ as she likes to put it. She is in the Eighth standard this year.
Sachin’s brother, completed his Twelfth standard from the centre. Sachin like other children comes from a working people’s family. He is enthused by learning and doing well at the centre.
Bhagyashree is the daughter of a brave woman, Sangeeta. Sangeeta was married while still in middle school , but she continued studying and completed her BA. She has stepped out of home boundaries, to make sure her children get to study. Bhagyashree is currently enrolled in 7th standard.
From March 1st -4th,2021 a small team of three from the MBSNS visited a trade union of landless labourers and marginal farmers based in West Bengal to conduct a 4 day social media content creation workshop with activists and young people from their union. Special thanks to Anuradha di and Swapan da for inviting us in the first place, Ishita, Shovan, Mehendi and Tapojay for the great co-facilitation and hospitality and of course all our new friends at PBKMS.
On Day 1, there were 15 participants spanning ages 16-60. It was inspiring to see that young people from the union were accompanied by 2-3 older/more experienced workers who were determined to learn newer ways of engaging with people. Tula, one of the older women karykartas who stayed till the end of the workshop, and perhaps struggled more than the young people with the new technology, said, “It is crucial we change our ways of bringing people together. We have been organising workers on the ground for the last 30 years and that’s great. But as the times change, we need to update our methods as well.” Abu, a young participant said, “Social media is where many important conversations about the world are happening. It is where many of my friends and I form our opinions. We need to learn, as an organisation how to intervene in these conversations in effective ways.”
Since this workshop was happening right before Bengal elections, it was decided to create some content to comment on the elections. However, we soon realised that we would want to use social media to initiate and impact conversations beyond the immediate elections. Thus, the participants choose a wide range of topics, making videos on a myriads of topics including: Holi, Ambedkar Jayanti, Bengali New Year, electoral turncoats, corruption, climate change, deforestation, ration, pension, inflation, NREGA, there were rich discussions and reflections on the power of social media and the importance of progressive forces/marginalised voices harnessing this power. Some have been shared below:
We live in a world where dominant forces control the content we consume– content that is usually created by and for dominant communities, content that systematically preys on young minds and sows seeds of hatred, and inequality in us. One way to counter this is to have marginalised communities take control of the cultural narrative, by using social media to build and shape opinions, ideas, discourse and eventually, cultures.
Social change work, which is attracting less youth, requires creative tasks such as social media content creation. It can be one of the ways to both use talents of the young and also retain their interest.
The more we work with social media, the more we are convinced that it’s time to truly leverage the empowering capacity of social media. It’s time to let our youth, engaging in people’s movements, take over the critical work of creating and shaping our narratives, to move from being passive consumers of content to being active creators… one video and one post at a time 🙂
Building on the December workshop, the workshop this time focused on improvement of video making skills such as: making sure endings are not abrupt, introducing both visual and sound effects, choosing better quality images, how to look out for, how to extract sound from videos, how to make videos using a voiceover, how to set photographs in keeping with the rhythm of the song. For this, Sabyasachi prepared a presentation, where he actually demonstrated the steps to each of these actions.
Tanmay and Abhimanyu, co-facilitated the sessions with inputs on the non-technical side, leading to some healthy discussions. After which major days/festivals coming up in the next couple of months were identified and it was decided to make videos to mark each of these days. Additionally, some saathis also decided to make content on a few contemporary issues.
The values thus engaged with were Justice/ Nyay, Equality/Samanata, democratic republic/loktantratmak gantantra, freedom/swatantrata, fraternity/ bandhutva, Socialist/ samajvad, Sovereignty/ Sampoorna Prabhutva Sampann and Secularism/ Panthanirpeksha/Dharmanirpeksha.
Every year, as the nation’s Republic Day comes around in cold and wintery January, the need to revisit and recommit to the Constitution of India seems more significant than before.
For one such exercise, youth and faclitators gathered in Araria from the 24th to the 26th of January, 2021. They began by examining the question of the importance of the Constitution in our lives as citizens. With an understanding of the spirit of the Constitution as a guide to how we govern ourselves as a nation, the workshop went on to dwell on the aspect of how this living document is one that we the people of India have given unto ourselves, via the drafting committee that was headed by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, in 1950.
The principle of self-governance was reflected on further with a discussion on the rules that are formulated by, and applied to all those who are in the workshop. Games in the open field were played with the similar reflection of how rules help in avoiding chaos, and how that linked back to the significance of the Constitution.
The later part of the first day of the workshop was spent in knowing more about the content of the Constitution, with emphasis on a self-assessment among the participants on how well they knew the elements that comprised the document, and the values and beliefs that animated the Constitution. Relevant reading material from Hum Bharat Ke Log was circulated to the participants and excerpts from movies on events in the lives of Dr. Ambedkar, Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Mahatma Gandhi that impacted the course of the country’s movement towards independence were also shown.
After having examined the values embedded in the Preamble to the Constitution through a group exercise, the tone was set for the next day with participant groups selecting the values they had examined to perform skits and songs around, for a deeper engagement and a clearer understanding of the values in the Preamble.
The values thus engaged with were Justice/ Nyay, Equality/Samanata, democratic republic/loktantratmak gantantra, freedom/swatantrata, fraternity/ bandhutva, Socialist/ samajvad, Sovereignty/ Sampoorna Prabhutva Sampann and Secularism/ Panthanirpeksha/Dharmanirpeksha. Group 1 showed the value of justice and democratic republic through the journey of a dalit man who sought resolution to being assaulted by a so-called upper caste landlord by approaching the institutions of the panchayat and the local police station, only to be turned away at each step. Group 2 engaged with the value of equality and socialism, by showing the devastation experienced by local villagers vis-à-vis their livelihoods with the taking over of their land by a big corporation, using the power vested in it through resources at its disposal, including policy that may not reflect the value of equality. Group 3’s presentation extended the discussion to the value of Sovereignty by pointing out that one country could not dictate the internal policy decisions of another country. Another skit showcasing the rights of citizens to choose their own partners regardless of their religion engaged with the value of Secularism. The current trends of politicizing such decisions under the garb of ‘love-jihad’ reflects the violation of the value of Secularism. Group 4 argued that the right to protest and to dissent, through the coming together of diverse members of a union fighting for work and payment within the NREGA, was reflective of the value of Freedom and also Fraternity/ Bandhutva, the way that the members from different backgrounds came together. The facilitator helped make the distinction between swatantrata, which was to do with freedom that came with responsibility and accountability, and swachhandata, that didnot have these associations. The Constitution as a guiding framework enshrines both the rights and the responsibilities of the citizen and the State.
Events unfolding the present across the country became the matter that the groups engaged with in the next session. These events were the rape of a dalit girl in Hathras, followed by the actions of the U P police as part of its investigations, including the arrest of a Muslim journalist from Kerala who had come to report on the event. The mob lynching of Pehlu Khan was another event brought in for discussion. The arrest and incarceration of Munnawar Farooqui, a comedic performer for allegedly disrespecting Hindu sentiments, was also reflected on, as was the speedy hearing extended to Arnab Goswami by the Supreme Court, while so many petitions from Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 or the undertrials arrested in the aftermath of the anti CAA-NRC protests continue to languish.
In this context, the idea of Fundamental Rights as enshrined in the Constitution was introduced to the participants. Together they were able to identify the violation to fundamental rights in each of the events that had been unfolding on the nation’s stage in the recent past. The participants dwelt on whether the rights guaranteed to us within the Constitution affected the situation on the ground for us as citizens of the country today.
With this the workshop came to an end with each of the interns committing to taking these discussions on the Constitution to their villages.
A workshop on Elections and Electoral Landscape was organised on 3rd and 4th November 2020 with local youth, many of whom were to be first time voters in the upcoming elections.
The specific objectives of the workshop included learning about the various parties, coalitions, and their ideologies; analysing the current political landscape to identify issues relevant to our communities; and understanding the impact of electoral choices. The workshop saw a participation of 31 youth volunteers.
As the tradition goes, the workshop started with songs of struggle (sangharsh). Rimjhim from IPTA led the group in a lively chorus of “Maare Hathoda”. Akhilesh from the JJSS youth volunteered to lead the famous “hum log hain aise deewane, duniya badal kar manenge”. After songs and introductions, the young people briefly shared what they had been doing during lockdown. Most of them were at home helping with domestic chores or taking on paid farm work locally. The mood in the meeting was joyful because participants were meeting each other after a long time.
The discussion started off with Kamayani asking the youth if they knew what elections were and which elections were coming up? The group answered that elections were a time when we changed the government, when we chose our leaders and that this time, it was time to change the government at the state level. One participant even went on to describe elections as the biggest festival of democracy as that is when the people took an opportunity to change the government. Next, the entire group were presented with placards with political party symbols stuck on them. The group was asked to identify the political party based on the symbols. At this point, the broad ideological leanings of each coalition were also mentioned and the difference between left wing, right wing and centrist politics briefly discussed.
In the following session, the youth were divided into groups and were assigned a coalition each. They were asked to think like the coalitions they had been assigned, and present issues on which their coalition would fight elections. Some of the issues that were brought up included ration, pension, unemployment, violence against women, roads, floods, electricity, public education, public health, corruption, spread of communal hatred, rising prices, farmer’s issues, distribution of land, lack of industry, among others. The teams were encouraged to present their campaigns in entertaining and dramatic ways.
What was interesting to note was that most of the speeches were focussed on tall promises or making fun of the opposition. This reflected the common perception of politicians and political parties amongst young people – that of people making a lot of noise, tall promises, but don’t really deliver anything of significance to citizens.
In the next session, participants had a rich discussion based on their presentations. Many said that political parties don’t care about citizen’s real issues. It was a collective consensus that any party that focuses on creating an atmosphere of hatred, fear and mistrust between communities rather than issues of health, education, malnutrition, ration, pension or any of the other issues young people find pressing cannot be trusted.
Two leaders from the JJSS, Ranjit and Ashish led a discussion on the likely voting trends in the upcoming elections. Ranjit made the point that it is important to remember that no matter who comes into power, we will still have to fight for our rights because at the end of the day, all the major parties are ruling class parties who have vested interests against the toiling masses. But we cannot afford to have a party in power that out rightly attacks our unity and constitutional values. Another point discussed in Ashish’s talk was discussed that an individual, no matter, how good or pure-intentioned, will have to follow the party line and if the party is at its core communal and casteist, then chances are that once the individual comes to power, they will still have to also act according to the ‘party line’. Both, facilitators, pointed to the fact that in Bihar, voters tend to vote on community lines. The deep mistrust prevalent between communities is exacerbated and played upon by various political parties to their own benefit. The facilitators pointed out that voting based only on caste or religion is dangerous as these individuals, particularly if they are from oppressed communities, often are unable to actually do much for their community as they are a part of ruling class/caste parties.
The workshop ended with a resolution that the youth participants will continue not only learning about the elections, but as future voters and citizens, they will also find ways to effectively intervene in India’s electoral landscape.